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Mountaineers fall 49-23 to Trojans in Sun Belt Championship

Junior+tight+end+Eli+Wilson+goes+up+for+a+catch+against+Troy+Dec.+2.+
Courtesy of App State Athletics
Junior tight end Eli Wilson goes up for a catch against Troy Dec. 2.

App State faced Troy in a rainy matchup, resulting in a record-setting Sun Belt Championship for the Trojans in a 49-23 victory. 

“I’m disappointed in the way the game went, I’m very disappointed in the outcome,” said head coach Shawn Clark. “But, I’m not disappointed in what it took to get to this point.”

The Trojans began with the football and initially converted a third-and-long, but punted after a high-flying and energized Mountaineer defense halted the opposing offense. 

App State quickly crossed midfield after chunk plays from redshirt junior wide receiver Kaedin Robinson and redshirt freshman running back Kanye Roberts. An intentional grounding penalty on junior quarterback Joey Aguilar forced a third-and-long, ending the Mountaineers’ promising opening drive. 

A second-down sack from redshirt freshman defensive end Santana Hopper forced a Troy timeout before a third-and-long. With rain beginning to fall, Trojans running back Kimani Vidal rushed 12 yards for the first down. After crossing midfield, App State held Troy to an incomplete pass on 3rd and 2, holding another Trojans punt.  

Junior running back Nate Noel saw the field to begin the second drive after Roberts started the game. Noel rushed for eight yards in two plays, but Robinson couldn’t keep his feet in bounds on a third-down pass, ending the drive with a three-and-out.

The Mountaineers’ defense responded and held Troy to a quick three-and-out. 

With an opportunity to end the scoreless first half, Aguilar completed an 18-yard third-down pass to junior tight end Eli Wilson. On fourth and short, the Mountaineers failed to convert as the Trojans’ defensive line stood up junior running back Anderson Castle.

The Trojans offense broke free and methodically drove down the field on an 8-play, 61-yard touchdown drive as Vidal fell into the end zone, giving Troy a 7-0 lead.

Troy’s defense continued to stifle the Black and Gold’s offense as they were held to a three-and-out with less than five minutes remaining in the first half. 

Vidal found an open rushing lane and broke away for a 36-yard rushing touchdown to extend the Trojans lead to 14. Troy’s leading rusher totaled 110 yards and two touchdowns on 12 attempts in the first half. 

App State found life on a 40-yard reception by redshirt sophomore wide receiver Dalton Stroman to set up the Mountaineers in the red zone. Noel picked up four yards on third down and was held one yard short of the first down. Down 14-0, the Black and Gold stayed on the field and converted the fourth down as Noel rushed for two yards. 

With the ball at the 1-yard line, Roberts broke the plane to give the Mountaineers a much-needed touchdown to cut the lead 14-7.

With 39 seconds remaining, Troy quickly moved the ball downfield for a last-second end zone shot before halftime from midfield. The final play of the half ended as the pass fell incomplete. The Trojans outgained the Mountaineers in total yards 217-151.

To begin the second half, App State drove down the field on an 11-play, 82-yard drive, led by multiple 10 plus yard rushes from Roberts. He continued to receive the ball and rushed for a 6-yard touchdown, tying the game at 14. 

Troy quickly responded as Trojans wide receiver Chris Lewis came down with the jump ball pass and sprinted away for a 51-yard receiving touchdown as his defender, redshirt senior cornerback Tyrek Funderburk, fell on the play. Lewis’ touchdown broke the 14-point tie and took a 21-14 lead.

After the Mountaineers’ offense suffered a three-and-out, the Trojans muffed the punt, and redshirt junior wide receiver Milan Tucker recovered the fumble at the 9-yard line. 

With the ball in the red zone after the turnover, App State was pushed back on a third-down sack and forced to settle for three. Junior kicker Michael Hughes converted the 41-yard field goal, cutting Troy’s lead to 21-17. 

A quick defensive stop from the Black and Gold set up Aguilar and the offense to take the lead, but they began the fourth quarter with a fourth-and-short decision. A false start penalty ended their opportunity and the Mountaineers punted. 

Troy kept the ball on the ground and rushed for 81 yards on 10 straight plays. Vidal led the rushing attack as he rushed for a 2-yard touchdown to extend the Trojans lead to 28-17.

On the next play, Aguilar dropped back and was strip-sacked by Trojans cornerback Don Callis, who returned it for a 10-yard touchdown to give Troy a 35-17 lead. 

The Mountaineers responded with a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive ending with Aguilar scrambling for six yards and fumbling the ball, but was recovered in the endzone by Wilson. App State attempted a two-point conversion and failed, leaving the deficit 35-23.

With five minutes remaining, the Trojans recovered an onside kick attempt from the Black and Gold. After back-to-back rushing plays, Troy ran a play-action fake on third down and found Lewis for a 19-yard reception. For the fourth time on the night, Vidal crossed the goal line for a 6-yard rushing touchdown. 

In a 42-23 deficit, the Trojans strip-sacked Aguilar again and recovered the ball with three minutes remaining. 

Troy kept the ball on the ground, and Vidal broke away for his fifth touchdown on a 49-yard rush. Vidal totaled 233 rushing yards and five touchdowns, a Sun Belt Championship Game record, on 26 attempts. 

The Mountaineers regained possession, but ran out the clock, ending the Sun Belt Championship with a 49-23 defeat.

“Gut-wrenching to lose in a game of this magnitude,” Clark said.

Aguilar threw for 275 passing yards on 28 completions, and his leading receiver was Robinson, who had 70 yards on six receptions. Roberts led the team in rushing with 53 yards and two touchdowns on 13 attempts. 

Troy’s offense outgained App State in total yards, 463-383, and the Trojans’ defense forced two turnovers and totaled five sacks. 

“We didn’t tackle well, we didn’t block well and we lost the turnover battle,” Clark said.

With Troy being crowned back-to-back Sun Belt Champions, the Mountaineers fall to 8-5 on the season, ending their five-game win streak.

The Black and Gold’s final challenge will be the Cure Bowl in Orlando against Maimi (OH) Dec. 16 at 3:30 p.m. The game will be televised on ABC.

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About the Contributor
Chance Chamberlain, Associate Sports Editor
Chance Chamberlain (he/him) is a senior journalism major, media studies minor. This is his second year writing for The Appalachian.
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